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Foreign Policy: Reconciliation Means Having to Say You're Sorry

Author: Lily Gardner Feldmand
April 2, 2014


"There are several lessons that Germany could convey. The first is that reconciliation need not conform to the East Asian ideal. There is a tendency in East Asia to see reconciliation as perfect peace and harmony -- and therefore unattainable -- but Germany's was long, messy, and has not yet ended."

In late March, both Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited Germany. While trade and investment were the main discussion topics, the remarkably coincidental visits of the two Asian powers are suggestive. In addition to new economic agreements, Germany may be offering something of even greater value to China and to South Korea: reconciliation with Japan.

Germany could help China and South Korea settle their decades-long disputes with Japan over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea and over the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands in the East Sea, respectively, as well as other festering tensions over history and memory. The idea, bold as it may sound, arguably originated with China and South Korea, not Germany. Over the last month, Beijing has become outspoken about Germany's successful confrontation of its horrific role in World War II and the Holocaust, highlighting Japan's perceived inaction. China's ambassador in Berlin has compared Germany favorably to Japan, and Beijing reportedly asked Germany to emphasize its handling of the Holocaust during Xi's visit. Park did not discuss the Holocaust directly, but nevertheless argued -- before and during her visit -- that Japan could learn from Germany how to confront its history.

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